Coveted Lee wants to stay and win with Phillies

Coveted Lee wants to stay and win with Phillies

July 15, 2013, 7:00 pm
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Cliff Lee is 10-3 with a 2.86 ERA in 19 starts this season. (USA Today Images)

NEW YORK – Cliff Lee was a very popular interview subject at All-Star festivities Monday.

Lee knew he would be. It’s July. He has a history as a hired gun. Teams want him. One of those teams is his current one, the Phillies. If that changes, contenders will pounce like wild dogs on red-pinstriped meat.

“It’s the nature of the business,” Lee said of the trade speculation that has followed him for the last year. “Until you have a full no-trade clause, you have no choice. It’s a business and each team has the prerogative to do what it wants.”

For the record, Lee has a partial no-trade clause that allows him to block deals to 20 teams.

“My job is to perform and give a team a chance to win -- for whatever team I’m with,” he said. “Right now it’s the Phillies and I hope it’s the Phillies for the rest of my career.

“You can sit here and what-if all kinds of things. I just know I’m a Phillie right now and that’s where my allegiance is, and I’ll continue to try to help them win. That’s where my focus is.”

Phils GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is on record as saying he wants to hang on to Lee for a possible second-half surge. Beyond that, Amaro says the Phillies are in business to win, and if they don’t make the postseason this year, they will look to rebound in 2014, and the best way to rebound is having Lee and Cole Hamels at the top of the rotation.

But here’s the thing about Amaro and the rest of the people that run the Phillies: They are human beings. Sometimes human beings change their minds. You can bet that Amaro’s ears are open to callers who ask about Lee and Chase Utley. If he’s blown away by the return -- and considers the Phillies a long shot to make the playoffs -- he could consider dealing those players. If he’s not blown away, no one will ever know he took the call in the first place.

There’s one sure way for Lee not be traded:

Keep on winning.

The Phils won seven of 10 on their last homestand to get to .500. They are 6 1/2 back in the NL East and 5 1/2 back in the wild card.

They aren’t trading Lee as long as they have a chance to overtake second-place Washington and catch Atlanta. The Phils must continue to run down both clubs when play resumes Friday. The Phils play three at the Mets, three at the Cardinals and three at the Tigers before an off day on July 29. By that time, Phils management will either be in the game all the way or looking to ship out players.

“We’ve actually played very well lately,” Lee said. “We’re winning series and that’s what you want. Lucky for us the Braves haven’t run away with it. As bad as we’ve played we’re within striking distance.

“As far as trades, you’ll have to talk to Ruben about that, but I think we’re in it. I have no other option but to look at it like we’re in it, and we’re going to catch up with the Braves, and we’re going to win the division and win the World Series. There’s no other way to look at it.”

Lee gets credit for thinking positively.

The Phillies in some ways control their own destiny as they have 13 games remaining with Atlanta and nine remaining with Washington. They also have 16 games left with the Mets and Marlins.

But these next nine games are crucial. They can’t afford a slow start to the second half in this weekend’s trip to Citi Field to face the Mets, and they have to play well against St. Louis and Detroit, two first-place clubs, next week.

“Hopefully we can continue what we’ve been doing last few weeks and make up some ground,” Lee said.

The Phillies have needs in the bullpen and in center field, where Ben Revere is out for up to two months with a broken foot (see story).

Amaro has said he’s looking to add to those areas, but there’s a feeling around baseball that he wants to see how his team reacts over the next week or so before he does.

Becoming buyers would show the team that management believes in it.

“I guess it would be bad to say I don’t care what management thinks about that but that’s kind of true,” Lee said. “It really doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about our team. It’s more about what we think amongst ourselves and us coming together as a team, competing hard and pulling for each other and picking each other up. And if we do that nothing else matters because we’ll win.

“It’s the front office’s job to field the best possible team they can. I’m pretty certain they’re trying to do that. My job is to pitch. I’m going to do that. If they trade guys or add guys I’m going to have to deal with that and we’re going to have to make the best of that no matter which direction they go.”

Lee, who turns 35 next month, is having a brilliant season. He is 10-3 with a 2.86 ERA in 19 starts. His WHIP is 0.995, the fifth-best in the NL. He has pitched 138 2/3 innings, third-most in the league and has 125 strikeouts and just 21 walks.

These are the reasons he is at his fourth All-Star Game, answering questions about possibly being a hired gun and saying he wants to remain a Phillie and make a run with that team.

“I’d rather not be here and be in first place by eight or 10 games and playing better baseball, but I can’t control that,” Lee said. “But it is gratifying knowing I’ve done my job at a high level and given the team a chance to win every time I’ve taken the mound, and I feel honored to be here.”